Saturday, December 29, 2012

Corey Robin
In deciding how to deploy those limited resources—whether they be time, money, effort—we’re compelled to answer the great questions of life: What do I value? What do I believe? What do I want in this life, in this world? (“Every man who, in the course of economic activity, chooses between the satisfaction of two needs, only one of which can be satisfied, makes judgments of value,” says Mises.) That decision must not only remain free; it must also remain mine. Most important of all, says the Austrian economist, it must remain a decision. Should what he calls the “economic situation” disappear from the human world, the disciplining agent of all ethical action—the necessity to choose among a limited set of options—would go with it. If our “ends dominate economy and alone give it meaning,” as Mises says, it’s also true, as Menger discovered, that economy alone is what gives our ends meaning. That, it seems to me, is the center of gravity of free-market economics.
Tom Slee
And once buying music is a signal, then it has to be costly. Part of the thing about finding the crappy little record store where you could actually buy the band of choice was taking the trek to find it, discovering a place where other people were, getting exposed to other potentially cool things. The difficulty was part of the thing. If a friend of mine got hold of a badly-recorded Pink Floyd bootleg, well that was a big deal. If the bootleg was available to everyone at no cost, there would have been no point even downloading it.

Thinking that cheap, high quality music is an improvement over rare, crappy quality music is the Wizzard fallacy: we don’t actually Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day because then it just wouldn’t be Christmas: the rarity is what matters. Making music free and widely available is a bit like making membership at an exclusive club free and widely available: it just robs the whole enterprise of its point.
Chris Bertram's response to Slee: "[Like!]"

Bertram again
New Left Project has a wonderful interview with Noam Chomsky on work, learning and freedom. It really brings out the more attractive anarchist side of Chomsky’s personality and politics. He’s particularly eloquent on the importance of spontaneous play for children’s development and how this is being crowded out in societies like ours (a theme, incidentally of James C. Scott’s recent Two Cheers for Anarchism. Recommended.
Commenter Z:
It’s more than 40 years but Chomsky hasn’t changed much of his philosophy since the 50s (as I happen to agree with most of anarchist philosophy myself, I don’t see this as a shortcoming
Chomsky's never known a day of freedom in his life; it's defined more than anything by a particularly driven sense of moral obligation. The shortcoming is that he hasn't changed his philosophy since the 50s. He sees no relation between his fantasies of his own objectivity and the personal/subjective foundation of his values; he argues through the fiction of disembodied reason.

I’m not sure how this thread morphed into a discussion of David Graeber (a man with whom I don’t enjoy cordial relations as a result of the symposium on Debt that we held). However, I’m highly amused by some of the reactions, which are psychologically revealing about some of our commenters, if nothing else.

Those committed, for example, to economic neoliberalism frequently seek to illustrate and justify their beliefs by pointing to the acquisitive tendencies in “human nature” and to the way people behave in the market. People rarely say that this is weird or artificial. But when anarchists link their political beliefs to some widely acknowledged goods (the value of spontaneous play, mutual aid) this is somehow cheating, because others acknowledge those goods too?
Bertram, 1/14/12
I’m sympathetic, I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life for two reasons: first, even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere). I suspect this generalizes to many people in professional jobs: we couldn’t achieve the kinds of things we want to in our careers on those kinds of hours.
The most important difference between Chomsky and Bertram is that Chomsky sees the necessity of living according to his principles, even if he's unwilling to face their origin. Bertram is the inheritor of those principles as ideas but not of the weight of the experience. He's like the spoiled child of a hard-working father whom he nonetheless looks up to.  Like the pathetic G.A. Cohen. Their logic is the legacy of Chomsky's rationalism; the legacy of modernism.

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